Signs of the Times (6/26/12)

Supreme Court Upholds Key Portion of Arizona’s Immigration Law

The Supreme Court has struck down most of the controversial Arizona immigration law, but upheld a key provision.  The Supreme Court has ruled that one key part of the Arizona immigration law known as Senate Bill 1070 is constitutional, paving the way for it to go into effect. The court, in a 5-3 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, upheld the portion of the law that requires an officer to make a reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there’s reasonable suspicion that person is in the country illegally. The justices, in a 5-3 vote, struck down three other provisions that created new state crimes targeting illegal immigrants, arguing that Arizona had usurped federal authority in the area of immigration enforcement.

The Supreme Court’s split ruling Monday on Arizona’s controversial immigration law did nothing to settle the debate — providing little clarity on how far states can go to police their borders and solidifying the topic as a key election-year issue. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer said the “heart of the bill” was upheld, and state legislators around the country sounded emboldened, arguing that the ruling will not only help similar laws survive constitutional challenges but will lead to more laws when state legislatures reconvene in January. But activists held out hope that because the majority of the law was gutted, similar laws across the country — or those under consideration — will suffer a similar fate.

  • The Supremes dropped the ball here by leaving the matter largely unsettled, resulting in future scrums as states continue to cope with an immigration situation the federal government refuses to confront

Court Rejects Corporate Campaign Spending Limits

The Supreme Court on Monday reaffirmed its 2-year-old decision allowing corporations to spend freely to influence elections. The justices struck down a Montana law limiting corporate campaign spending. By a 5-4 vote, the court’s conservative justices said the decision in the Citizens United case in 2010 applies to state campaign finance laws and guarantees corporate and labor union interests the right to spend freely to advocate for or against candidates for state and local offices. The majority turned away pleas from the court’s liberal justices to give a full hearing to the case because massive campaign spending since the January 2010 ruling has called into question some of its underpinnings.

  • Pure politics. Liberals want limits because Republicans have the most money.

Mormons Excited About Romney

Most Mormons in Utah believe that Mitt Romney’s rise to become the likely GOP presidential nominee is a good thing for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But many do not trust the media to cover the church fairly, according to a new poll released Monday (June 25). More than eight in 10 Utah Mormons said they are “very excited” or “somewhat excited” about Romney’s feat. Nearly as many (77 percent) said his nomination is a good thing for the LDS church; just 2 percent told pollsters it was a negative development.

  • Mormonism is the worst sort of abomination, because it purports to be Christian even though it relegates Jesus’ status to that of Lucifer’s brother. As the fastest growing religion in the U.S., it serves Satan’s purposes to further confuse unbelievers about who Jesus really is.

Survey: Doubt of God Growing Quickly Among Millennials

The percentage of Americans under 30 who doubt the existence of God appears to be growing quickly, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey, CNN reports. While most young Americans — 68 percent — told Pew they never doubt God’s existence, that’s a 15-point drop in just five years. In 2007, 83 percent of American millennials said they never doubted God’s existence. No other generation showed a change of more than 2 percent in the past five years when asked about doubts of God. The survey found that the percentage of millennials who identify with a religion is remaining constant, while most other generations have seen religious affiliation increase in the past 10 years. “Research on generational patterns shows this is not merely a life-cycle effect,” the Pew report said. “The millennial generation is far less religious than were other preceding generations when they were the same age years ago.”

  • The secular humanists are winning converts as Christianity continues to suffer from apathy, confusion and unbiblical practices

Jail Sentence Stands for Host of Home Bible Studies in Arizona

A federal district court in Arizona ruled that a Phoenix homeowner who held weekly Bible studies in his backyard must serve jail time for failing to comply with building, zoning, fire and safety codes applicable to churches, Christianity Today reports. In 2008, the city of Phoenix ordered Michael Salman to comply with code requirements for a church after neighbors complained about his Bible studies, which drew 50 people to a gazebo in his backyard. Salman refused, saying the order violated his free exercise rights, and was fined $12,000, sentenced to 60 days in jail and given three years of probation, during which he could not have more than 12 people in his home. On Friday, the federal district court dismissed Salman’s attempt to halt the judgment because a lower federal court had already heard his complaint and dismissed it for failing to first exhaust his legal options at the state level.

  • Christianity is under attack in all places and all ways. This wouldn’t have happened to a Muslim group.

FBI: 79 Teen Prostitutes Rescued, 104 Pimps Arrested

The FBI announced today that agents and local police rescued 79 teenagers and arrested 104 alleged pimps during a three-day sweep against child sex trafficking in 57 U.S. cities. The juveniles — 77 girls and two boys between the ages of 13 and 17 — had been held against their will and were forced into prostitution after their captors allegedly threatened to harm them and their families, the FBI said. The teens were found at hotels, truck stops, casinos and storefronts, Reuters says. One girl said she had been prostituted since she was 11. The crackdown, from Wednesday to Saturday, is the sixth since 2008 as part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, which was launched in 2003. Similar sweeps rescued 69 minors in November 2010, more than 50 in October 2009 and 48 in February 2009.

Economic News

Home prices rose in April for the first time in seven months, though they are still near record lows, according to a report out Tuesday. Average home prices increased 1.3% in April in 20 major markets, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index. This comes after prices hit new post-bubble lows in March. Prices are down 34% from their summer 2006 peak.

North Las Vegas is officially a disaster area. After five years of declining property taxes, massive layoffs and questionable spending, leaders of the blue-collar, family-oriented city outside Las Vegas declared a state of emergency, invoking a rarely used state law crafted for unforeseen disasters. The statute allows municipalities to suspend union contracts and avoid paying scheduled salary increases, but it doesn’t actually include fiscal emergencies among the list of potential disasters. “It says, in case of `emergency such as.’ You can’t list how many different types of emergencies there are in the world,” City Council member Wade Wagner said of the move, which will save the city $9 million.

Taxpayers next week will start paying more to prop up four of Arizona’s ailing public retirement plans, which continue to suffer such heavy market losses that their values are far below what they owe pensioners over the long term. The pension system for Arizona’s police officers and firefighters is in the worst shape and has little hope for a quick turnaround. “We can only hope the financial markets start improving,” said Jim Hacking of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. Arizona is among 34 states facing these problems.

A worsening shortage of truck drivers is pushing up freight rates and delaying some deliveries, defying the weak economy, high unemployment and falling gasoline prices. The annual turnover driver turnover rate at large carriers rose to a four-year high of 90% in the first quarter from 75% a year ago. Many Baby Boomers are retiring and fewer young people are interested in long-haul-trucking careers that often require drivers to be away from home for weeks at a time. Despite the 8.2% national jobless rate, many unemployed construction and factory workers can’t afford the $4,000 to $6,000 cost of a six-week driver-training course.

As Detroit continues to work through its financial difficulties, the city will lay off 164 firefighters by the end of July. The layoffs could be temporary, as the city hopes to secure a federal grant that would restore the jobs of 108 firefighters. The layoffs represent nearly 19 percent of the fire department’s 881 firefighters.

For the first time in three years, more than half of all churches report increases in giving: 51% said donations were up, 31% were down while 17% remained unchanged.

Eurozone

Cyprus on Monday became the fifth eurozone country to request financial aid from its partners in the troubled European currency union as it struggles to shore up its banks, which took heavy losses on Greek debt. A government spokesman wouldn’t say how much Cyprus would ask for from the European bailout fund, saying the amount will be subject to negotiations in the coming days. The 27 leaders of the European Union are meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. Analysts estimate the sum would likely be around €5 billion ($6.2 billion) but could go as high as €10 billion ($12.5 billion) That’s a fraction of the bailouts given to the other EU countries — Spain has asked for as much as €100 billion ($125 billion) for its banks.

Egypt

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi has won Egypt’s presidential runoff, the country’s election commission said Sunday. Morsi won by a narrow margin over Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak. The commission said Morsi took 51.7 percent of the vote versus 48.3 for Shafiq. The country’s last four presidents over the past six decades have all came from the ranks of the military. This is the first time modern Egypt will be headed by an Islamist and by a freely elected civilian. Egypt’s new president-elect, Islamist Mohammed Morsi, moved into the office once occupied by ousted leader Hosni Mubarak and started consultations Monday on forming his team and a new government. The announcement of the president was supposed to be the end of Egypt’s post-uprising transition to democracy. However the military made a series of last minute moves that stripped the office of president of most of its major powers and kept those powers concentrated in the hands of the military.

Syria

Turkey’s president said Saturday his country will take “necessary,” but unspecified, action against Syria, a day after Damascus said it had brought down a Turkish military plane that had entered its air space. Abdullah Gul said that Turkey was still trying to establish the exact circumstances of the incident and whether the jet may have been brought down in Turkish territory. The incident further escalated tensions between the two neighbors, which used to be allies before the Syrian revolt began in March 2011. Turkey has become one of the strongest critics of the Syrian regime’s brutal response to the country’s uprising. Turkey said Monday it would push NATO to consider Syria’s downing of a Turkish jet as an attack on the whole military alliance.

Meanwhile, activists are reporting heavy clashes between Syrian rebels and the elite Republican Guard in two suburbs of the capital Damascus. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the clashes erupted on Tuesday in the suburbs of Qudsaya and Hammah. Although Damascus is under the firm control of Assad’s forces, clashes erupt regularly in the suburbs between troops and rebels.

Iraq

Buoyed by an increase in oil production and declining violence, Iraq’s economy is showing signs of life. Iraq has boosted oil production to 3 million barrels a day with the help of international oil companies. That’s up from the 2.5 million barrels before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The government expects to expand capability to 10 million barrels a day in six years, which would put it at the top of world oil producers. The International Monetary Fund forecasts Iraq’s economy will grow 11.1% this year to about $144 billion.

But there’s no shortage of reasons to be wary. Iraq’s government is not fully formed, two years after elections. Bitter political and sectarian fights have threatened to bring the government to a standstill. The government still struggles to provide basic services, such as electricity. Al-Qaeda remains a threat and is trying to trigger a civil war by targeting Shiites with bombings. Meanwhile, Iraqi officials say two bomb blasts have killed 11 people Monday. Six people died and 26 were wounded when a minibus blew up as it pulled up to a popular soccer field. A bomb hidden in a plastic bag exploded outside a pet store in Baqouba killed another five and wounded three others.

Pakistan

Militants crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan and killed 13 Pakistani troops, beheading seven of them, the Pakistani military charged Monday. The border skirmish is a new sign of tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan, two uneasy neighbors. Pakistan has complained that militants use parts of Afghanistan for sanctuary to stage attacks inside Pakistan. That claim helps Islamabad counter frequent U.S. and NATO complaints that militants behind much of the violence in Afghanistan come from Pakistan.

Nigeria

This could be the “bloodiest month yet” for Christians – if one Islamic terror group has its way. Nigerian Islamic terror group Boko Haram said it is commissioning 300 suicide bombers to spur a Christian bloodbath. The group made a statement to online news agency Sahara Reporters that it also plans to get revenge for security forces killing Boko Haram guerrillas. The new round of anti-Christian assaults comes only days after a series of street shootouts in Kaduna province killed 100 civilians and a continued string of church bombings killed at least 50 people.

Paraguay

Paraguay’s Senate voted to remove President Fernando Lugo from office on Friday in an impeachment trial that plunged the South American country into a crisis. Lugo is to be replaced by Vice President Federico Franco of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party. Crowds of pro-Lugo protesters took to the streets condemning the impeachment trial and expressing support for the president. Police in anti-riot gear drove them back on horseback and using water cannon. The Senate tried him on five charges of malfeasance in office, including an alleged role in a deadly confrontation between police and landless farmers that left 17 dead.

Earthquakes

A moderate earthquake Sunday toppled houses in a mountainous part of southwestern China, killing two people and injuring at least 100. The magnitude-5.7 quake was centered near the border of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces where many Yi ethnic minority live. A magnitude-5.8 quake in Yunnan in March last year killed 25 people and damaged thousands of homes.

Wildfires

Brutal wildfires across the West have put tourist destinations from Montana to New Mexico in danger just at the height of midsummer family road-trip season, putting cherished Western landscapes at risk along with hordes of vacationers. In Colorado, the $5 billion tourism industry is on edge as images of smoke-choked Pikes Peak and flaming vacation cabins near Rocky Mountain National Park threaten to scare away summer tourists. In central Utah, a wildfire in an area dotted with vacation cabins was burning an estimated 39 square miles and threatening about 300 homes. Firefighters had that blaze at 10 percent containment Monday. The Sanpete County Sheriff’s office has said that as many as 30 structures may have been lost.

The total number of homes destroyed by a two-week old wildfire in northern Colorado was raised to 248 on Sunday as residents of a subdivision near Fort Collins learned that 57 more homes in their neighborhood had been lost. The High Park Fire is the second-largest wildfire and among the most expensive in Colorado’s history. It has scorched more than 130 square miles but was 55 percent contained on Monday.

A wildfire near Colorado Springs has quickly grown to more than 4,500 acres and prompted thousands of residents to flee their homes, while another fire to the north claimed more than a dozen cabins and structures after sweeping through a Rocky Mountain neighborhood. The wildfire near Colorado Springs erupted Saturday and grew out of control to more than 3 square miles early Sunday, prompting the evacuation of more than 11,000 residents and an unknown number of tourists. Authorities said Sunday that they were allowing about 5,000 of those residents to return. The Little Sand fire northwest of Pagosa Springs has consumed over 22,000 acres, but no structures have been burned as yet, with no containment as yet. At least seven wildfires are now burning across Colorado, where officials have been challenged by the most severe wildfire seasons in recent memory.

In Utah, the Wood Hollow fire has scorched about 39,000 acres and consumed fifteen structures, with only 15% containment as of Monday. Meanwhile, thousands of residents whose homes were in danger of being threatened by a Utah wildfire have had to find shelter elsewhere as strong winds fueled a blaze that officials believe was started by target shooters. Residents of at least 2,300 homes in northern Utah were evacuated Friday, a day after the more than 9-square-mile fire started near the Saratoga Springs landfill, about 40 miles south of Salt Lake City. High winds then helped fan the flames onto tinder-dry grasslands.

Following the recent Gladiator and Whitewater-Baldy fires, experts say that wildfire and drought have so severely damaged Arizona’s forests over the past 10 years, that repairing the damage will require decades, if not centuries, of methodical work. Now land managers and government leaders face tough decisions about how to balance competing needs, deal with drought and climate change and get the work done before another landscape-altering fire erupts. Forest experts say an Arizona without towering ponderosa forests, a loss that could occur within a generation, is not an option. Life without forests would put the state’s water supply at risk, push more wildlife species closer to extinction, weaken high-country tourist economies and forever alter a landscape that has come to define some of the most precious parts of Arizona.

Weather

Parts of the main interstate highway across northern Florida were closed by flooding Tuesday as Tropical Storm Debby hung stubbornly offshore over the Gulf of Mexico, threatening up to two feet of rain in places. In the Tampa Bay area, roads such as Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard were washed out. Residents tried to salvage belongings from flooded homes in low-lying areas. High winds and flooding concerns prompted authorities to close two major routes over Tampa Bay into St. Petersburg. A Florida toddler was miraculously found alive in the arms of her dead mother Sunday after they were flung approximately 200 feet from their home by a tornado spawned by Tropical Storm Debby.

After raking Florida’s Gulf coast with high winds and heavy rain, Debby promised to bring more of the same in the coming days as it drifted on a path forecast to take it over the state and east into the Atlantic by Friday. It had maximum sustained winds near 45 mph, barely tropical-storm status. Twenty-three percent of oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico was suspended, a government hurricane response team reported. Employees were evacuated from 13 drilling rigs and 61 production platforms.

From Cape Hatteras, N.C., to just north of Boston, sea levels are rising much faster than they are around the globe, putting one of the world’s most costly coasts in danger of flooding, government researchers report. Along the region, the Atlantic Ocean is rising at an annual rate three times to four times faster than the global average since 1990. Since 1990, sea levels have gone up globally about 2 inches. But in Norfolk, Va., where officials are scrambling to fight more frequent flooding, the sea level has jumped a total of 4.8 inches, the research showed. For Philadelphia, levels went up 3.7 inches, and in New York City, it was 2.8 inches. The rising sea levels are caused by melting arctic ice sheets and because warmer water expands.

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